Between Thanksgiving with its overflowing table, the cookie shipments I start packing for friends in a few weeks and the endless punch bowls of New Year’s Eve celebrations to come, these are the days of food and drink abundance. So why am I sharing a recipe based on an opposite tradition, one of fasting?
It’s because in the midst of such indulgences, I always crave moments of respite, and I figured you might, too.
This Lebanese lentil and pasta soup comes from “Nistisima,” Georgina Hayden’s beautiful collection of vegan Mediterranean recipes. The title is the Greek word for Lenten, or fasting foods, dishes eaten by those that adhere to the Orthodox church’s fasting rules. As Hayden writes, when she was growing up in Cyprus, “I never questioned why we have countless cake recipes that are oil-based and contain no eggs, or that we drank almond ‘milk,’ long before it became trendy in cafe culture, but now I understand that this came about from necessity.”
Lent on the Christian calendar is months away, and it’s traditionally about sacrifice. While I appreciate, as Hayden does, the ritual of reflection and of resetting ones dietary habits, whether it’s religious or not, I don’t need to wait to enjoy the kind of cooking that leaves me feeling refreshed and nourished rather than, well, overserved.
The most obviously appealing things about this soup are its flavor and texture: the former from a classic Mediterranean blend of cumin, cilantro, garlic and lemon (what Hayden calls “the holy quarter of flavours in my world”) and the latter a silkiness from the pasta’s starch. That makes eating it feel anything but restrictive.
The recipe has another benefit: Just when you might be at your busiest, it provides a speedy way to get a dinner or lunch on the table – and then into the fridge as leftovers that you’ll welcome being able to dip into on a particularly harried day.
Lentil and Pasta Soup (Rishta)
Adapted from “Nistisima” by Georgina Hayden (Bloomsbury, 2022).
8 cups Scrappy Vegetable Broth or store-bought low-sodium vegetable broth
1 heaping cup (7 ounces) brown/green lentils, rinsed and picked over
¼ cup olive oil
2 medium-large onions (9 ounces each), thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 cups lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves and stems (1 large bunch), finely chopped and divided
4 ounces dried tagliatelle or fettuccine, broken into bite-size pieces
1 teaspoon fine salt, plus more to taste
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste
In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the broth and the lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat until the liquid is at a simmer, and cook until the lentils are very tender, about 35 minutes.
While the lentils are cooking, in a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and just beginning to take on color, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the cumin seeds and ground coriander and stir-fry until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in half the chopped cilantro and cook, stirring, until completely wilted, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
When the lentils are tender, add in the onion mixture. Add the tagliatelle pieces, salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Increase the heat to return to a boil, then reduce the heat so the liquid is simmering, and cook until the tagliatelle is just tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and the remaining chopped cilantro. Taste, and season with more salt, pepper and/or lemon juice as needed.
Yield: 4 servings
Storage notes: Refrigerate leftovers for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
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